Shot on Mamiya C330.
I'm bothered about this post. The key image that made me skeptical is this one:
It bothers me because not only because it elicited an emotional reaction (she is lying on the pavement next to the road that I used to go down every day on my commute to and from work), but because it got me thinking about something one of my photojournalist colleagues pointed out: that our investment in drawing the ethical boundary around protecting a victim's identity and dignity grows in direct proportion to how close the 'situation' is to our own. In other words, if this woman were Syrian and not - as I am - in London, then I wouldn't be nearly as bothered by this photograph and perhaps I wouldn't be censoring it at all (see: death of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy washed up on the beach in 2015.)
Of course to this there is the counter-argument (as some of the commenters have made) that journalism must show the world 'the truth', and while I don't often find it productive to comment on intent (since the effect of the photograph in the world is, fundamentally, the tangible outcome), there is an implied belief that by showing the 'the truth', we can prompt action, something can be done.
But again, let's turn to Alan Kurdi:
Okay, so if not genuine change, then at least awareness? But where exactly is that fickle line between awareness of something and using the appeal of the extreme (a woman bleeding on the ground looking directly into the camera) to draw viewership? When did 'engagement' mean comments and likes on Facebook rather than actual physical engagement? Don't get me wrong, I'm not at all advocating the muzzeling of photojournalists. I understand more than most that the photojournalist's job is very much that: a job. And that years of training and experience teach you that your job is to do the best job you can. That they were on the scene so quickly is a testament to the organisation and its photographers. They live up to their brand, and commitment is to be commended in this age of fickleness and ephemerality.
But I'm worried, mostly. Because this is the output, the 'effect' of the photograph as relayed in the Facebook comments:
And I'm not sure at all what this is doing. For anyone. I'm not sure where the discussion is or the increase in awareness. All I see is angry shouting from both sides.
So to this whole affair, I can only add my condolences to the legions of well-wishers all over London today. And say that of all the pictures I've seen, this is the one that I want to remember:
A few people have asked me what my new project "99 Unique Experiences" is about. To this there are two answers:
1. THE WORK
The images are made by finding 99 photographs of an iconic location on Instagram (photographs that other people have taken) and overlaying them on Photoshop without any distortion of perspective in order to create a composite image of that location. It's my way of visually exploring the modern impulse that has puzzled me for some time: that we go to iconic places and have to somehow take 'ownership' of our personal experience of that place by photographing it. The result is that many people visit one place, each document it - often from exactly the same spot - and end up producing images that are both completely the same and very different from other people.
2. THE PHOTOGRAPHER
For me, it's an experiment. When I started studying my Masters in Photojournalism & Documentary Photography, I was aspiring to hone my skills in a Reuters/AP sort of direction. But after exposure to multitudes of work that take an expansive and diverse range of approaches to photography, this is my attempt to expand my own practice outwards into interrogation and ideas, which have always interested me as much as images have. I'm not sure where this leads, at this point, but it feels like a productive and interesting place to be right now, while I have the luxury of time to explore.
In 2012, fresh out of an undergraduate degree in English Literature, I wanted to apply to the MA Photojournalism & Documentary Photography course at London College of Communication. I had just moved to Australia and had grand designs for my photographic future and no idea how to get there.
In 2014, having spent some time finding my London legs after moving between three continents for two years, I was ready to apply again. I showed up at the open day, asked a bunch of relevant questions, and went back to my day job.
In 2016, I finally did it: applied, left my job, and I am now two weeks away from the halfway point of the degree.
There a few things that spring to mind out of recounting this experience and I want to remind myself of them as I move forward in 2017:
- Time takes time - a lot of learning only comes through living through the experiences to get to the other side.
- The right time isn’t always when you expect it to be - I am convinced that had I applied for this degree in 2012 and 2014, I would not have the stomach that I have for it now.
- The ‘other side’ moves as soon as you get there, and that’s no bad thing - I began this course wanting a career in Reuters/PA-style reportage, and now find my practice veering off in exciting but very unexpected directions.
The one thing that has been consistently true though is that I write. Sometimes it is a means of creative exploration - trying new forms, working on short fiction to explore ideas. Sometimes it is a means of capturing experiences as they happen - diaries, blogs, moments snatched on notebooks. Sometimes it’s a form of thinking through something that is not yet clear, and sometimes it’s a means to produce a well-considered, well-researched, in-depth piece on something of interest that isn’t necessarily personal or in any way explicitly connected to the writer.
At this moment, in 2017, I have decided it might now be the right time to start writing publicly again in the form of this blog.
This is going to be a space for exploration. If you are looking for more clean-cut, well-thought-through, microwave-ready thoughts, they can be found on my Medium account. If you’re as interested in WIP as I am, then I do hope you’ll join me here for the ride.